Film Review: My Perestroika

Bitter documentary takes the old Soviet Union to TASS.

Using the approach of following a select few individuals through their lives, My Perestroika makes the case that being brought up in a government-controlled environment is not a good thing. But director Robin Hessman sabotages her own agenda by not allowing the footage to stand on its own and by sending an unrelenting, one-note message. Though the reviews have been kind, audiences may not be.

Essentially, My Perestroika looks at the lives of five Russian citizens (all one-time schoolmates): Borya and Lyuba, married history teachers; Olga, a single working mother; Ruslan, a poor musician; and Andrei, a successful haberdasher. Throughout the film we see their happier, “brainwashed” selves in older footage contrasted with their currently sad, post-glasnost states of being. Yes, society may have changed in some ways, but our protagonists remain resentful.

If Hessman and co-producer Rachel Wexler had used Michael Apted’s bold and brilliant Seven Up technique of crosscutting the home movies of the youngsters with their 30-something selves, My Perestroika would have had a chance to show—in a subtle way—the ill effects Soviet domination had on its own people, particularly its children. Sadly, Hessman decides to “jazz” up the material by cutting too often, making it sometimes difficult to know which child we are seeing in grainy black-and-white and matching them to the disillusioned adult we witness in the dreary color present.

But this technical flaw is only half the problem. We expect the five individuals will tell how the scales fell from their eyes as they grew up, yet the stories barely vary and we end up with a repetitive, far from illuminating view of the past, lacking any nuance—very much the simplistic kind we would have seen and heard in a Hollywood movie made during the Cold War. (Didn’t we already sense Vladimir Putin hasn’t been much better than the leaders of yore?) At least we can be thankful there is not an authoritative voice-over narration.

So one wonders: What is the point if not to validate Western assumptions about “the Evil Empire”? Ronald Reagan would be proud.